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Missing student, 4, spurs new Tatum ISD policy

By Richard Yeakley
Oct. 17, 2012 at 11 p.m.

An incident Tuesday at Tatum Primary School has prompted the school district to revamp its policy on how children are supervised.

Four-year-old Brayden Smith, a pre-kindergarten student at Tatum Primary, was able to leave the school unnoticed and was unaccounted for until other students' parents found him in the school parking lot near Texas 149.

"It is what it is - there was a breakdown; we have rectified that," said Dee Hartt, superintendent of Tatum ISD. "Our first thing is that we are truly thankful that the student is OK."

Tatum ISD is a 2A school district in Rusk County.

The primary school building was designed so a receptionist can watch the main front doors. However, on busy days, such as Tuesday, Hartt said, it is a large task to ask the receptionist to verify each person coming or going and keep her eyes on the door.

The superintendent conceded the 4-year-old slipped out through the doors unnoticed.

Beginning Wednesday, the primary school assigned an additional staff member to stand near the exit doors to ensure no child leaves the building.

Lori Smith, Brayden's mother, said she discovered her son's absence - not school personnel - when she visited his class Tuesday.

Smith said she received permission from school administrators to wait outside her son's class and help discipline him if he misbehaved, since Brayden has had trouble adjusting to school.

After arriving at the school, she couldn't find her son in class, in the cafeteria or in the halls.

"When I put him in the bus, I am assuming that he is the school's responsibility. He could have very easily been kidnapped or killed," Smith said. "Honestly, it sucks. I am a single parent, and he is all I have in this world; it is scary to know he could have easily been taken away yesterday."

After two parents who were talking in the parking lot saw Brayden, they brought him back into the school.

Smith said she spoke with the principal and Hartt and watched video from security cameras.

She said Brayden entered the cafeteria around 7:14 a.m. after getting off the bus.

She said he was not seen on tape again until he left the school building - near busy Texas 149 - about 8:14 a.m.

He was found by the parents and brought back into the school about 8:30 a.m.

No one, she said, was able to account for his whereabouts for about an hour, and Smith presumed he wandered the halls.

Larger school districts, such as Longview, Pine Tree and Hallsville, have staff that are dedicated to watching the door at the beginning and end of the school day. Smaller districts, similar in size to Tatum, also have more than a staff member who monitors the doorways.

White Oak ISD, a 2A school district in Gregg County, has teachers and administrators that monitor its doors in the morning until after the bell rings, Superintendent Mike Gilbert said.

Teachers and administrators monitor the doors until the 8 a.m. bell, Gilbert said. Near 8 a.m., teachers go to their classrooms to prepare but administrators continue monitoring the doors after the bell, he said.

Additionally, White Oak Primary School has cameras at both of its doors with monitors that are visible to the secretary in the office, he said.

Union Grove Superintendent Brian Gray said teachers and administrators have a rotating morning duty schedule that has someone watching the front doors, on bus duty and monitoring the cafeteria each day. Gray said when teachers go to class, administrators continue to monitor the doors.

Union Grove is a 2A school district in Upshur County.

Brayden went to school and rode the bus again Wednesday, Smith said.

"I don't have a choice - I don't have anyone that could keep him. I would love to be able to afford day care, but I can't. I would love to be able to afford private school, but I can't," Smith said.

Hartt said the school had put in place new policies to prevent an incident like Tuesday's from occurring begin and apologized to Smith.

"At times like this, apologies aren't enough for a parent, but we surely offer our apologies," Hartt said.



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